MyNotes - (Dis)Embodied Difference in the Online Class

What a fascinating piece on the value of body in an online class. In particular, I found this point to be engaging:
ignoring bodies makes it difficult to engage critically with issues of culture, difference, and social justice.
The point is, can we teach students as we ignore our bodies? It's a point worth considering. As a latino-American, as well as a transplanted Texan from age 10, I found the interactions in my graduate classes (Bicultural/Bilingual Studies) interesting. First, I had to become acquainted with the history of White-Black-Hispanic relations in the Southwest, and then consider how Chicano power played into many of the conversations my professors had.

I often felt out of touch with those conversations. As the child of a white (Swedish ancestry) man born in Houston, Texas and a Panamanian, I seem to bridge the two cultures without full being immersed in either. It's a delicate topic to raise with others, and I know Race/Ethnicity certainly play a part in how people are hired (or not), impacting economic well-being, etc. for entire families of "socio-economically" challenged individuals.

Social justice, then, rears its head in the midst of our online oasis, as we find again that no matter where we go, we carry our biases, prejudices with us. Declaring those biases, putting them on the table becomes all the more important in the online world, as much as the face to face one...disembodied or not, we speak what is in our heart, mind,


JOLT - Journal of Online Learning and Teaching

    • (Dis)Embodied Difference in the Online Class: Vulnerability, Visibility, and Social Justice Alexa Dare Assistant Professor of Communication and Leadership Gonzaga University Spokane, WA 99258 USA  

    • Abstract The purpose of this paper is to interrogate critically the design and delivery of online course which address issues of race, culture, difference, or globalization. I use critical insights about how race functions in the online classroom to provide strategies for incorporating social justice into online curriculum in communication studies. I begin by summarizing key insights into the two general pedagogical issues of interest to this paper: critical intercultural communication studies and online course delivery. The first part of this essay addresses the advantages and possibilities associated with online delivery of such courses as intercultural communication. The second part teases out some of my misgivings concerning the viability and usefulness of online courses concerning communication and difference. Finally, I conclude by offering some strategies for designing antiracist and socially just classes in the online environment. Keywords: Critical Pedagogy; Race online; Intercultural communication; Antiracist pedagogy; Global justice
      • If learning is understood as something that happens mainly (or only) in the brain, or cognitively, then online learning is easy to imagine as a digital translation of face-to-face learning. However, when considering learning and knowledge as embodied experiences or phenomena, then the differences between face-to-face and online learning become more pronounced.
        • ignoring bodies makes it difficult to engage critically with issues of culture, difference, and social justice.
          • virtual environments are imbued with power relations
            • A critical approach to intercultural communication highlights the power dynamics that structure and shape our experiences as “cultured” bodies.
              • intercultural communication is not simply a benign moment of encounter between two different individuals, but is instead a
                • contingent, dialectical, historically-shaped negotiation of (oftentimes competing) meaning systems.
                  • bodies are not the source of cultural meaning, but rather are infused with meaning through social, communicative practices
                    • online education has been celebrated by many because of its potential to provide educational opportunities to populations who are unable to attend traditional face-to-face classes for financial, geographical, physical, or family reasons.
                      • the online experience can be more rewarding for certain students than a traditional face-to-face classroom environment. As Bender (2003) explains, “online discussion can reach beyond the temporal and spatial constraints of the campus class, and as a result can often add a richer and deeper perspective [than is possible in traditional classes] as students respond when they are informed and inspired”
                        • the online course space can soothe or counter gender- and race-based inequities in education.
                          • The constitution of the online classroom as a color-blind space free of raced and sexed bodies is one which deserves greater reflection by examining the implications of “disembodying” students and instructors in the virtual classroom, within the context of classes about race, gender, and globalization
                            • When students are not able to use visual cues to construct assumptions about their professor’s racial, ethnic or cultural background, they may engage the material (initially) with fewer preconceived notions about the connections between critical questions about race and their professor’s own racial, ethnic, and cultural trajectories.
                              • Anderson (2010), however, points out that much can be inferred from students’ and professors’ names. In a study that examined students’ stereotypes of professors, using only names as cues, “students tended to rate professors according to factors that interacted with professors’ gender and ethnicity” (p. 469). Anderson’s study asked students to rate identical syllabuses and to evaluate the hypothetical professors on dimensions including warmth, competence and difficulty. Interestingly, “even though their syllabuses were identical, the simple presence of a gender identifiable name influenced students’ assumptions about the professor” (p. 469). This finding complicates the optimism that the online classroom can be a genderless or colorblind space of possibility for students (or professors
                                • Teaching tips and techniques for online instruction invariably counsel instructors to act in ways that are “supportive and encouraging, giving ample feedback, being a good role model, being appropriately informal, and eliciting discussion” (Bender, 2003, p. 11). Most researchers of online education agree that instructors should strive to create a climate that is welcoming, supportive, and non-threatening. So, for example, Bender (2003) suggests that in online classes, “feedback must be encouraging so that it stresses the positive of the student’s achievement before mentioning suggestions for improvement” (p. 29).
                                  • worry that online pedagogy strives more heavily for “student satisfaction” than critical awareness or intellectual development. This is especially troubling for those who are interested in teaching about questions of identity and culture from a critical perspective, and to those who strive to support social justice through curricula and pedagogy.
                                    • I have found that in a traditional classroom, I can monitor student (nonverbal) feedback, I can “turn up the heat” when students appear to be ready, I can step back and let students take the floor and engage the issues together, and I can constantly and personally reinforce my own “stake” and complicity with these issues. The role of a facilitator in the face-to-face classroom is very much one which requires vigilance, attention to verbal and nonverbal feedback, and a willingness to jump in when necessary as well as to stay on the sidelines at other times.
                                      • any attempts to encourage or to celebrate moments of discomfort run up against prevailing commitments to create an “enjoyable” learning space and experience.
                                        • In particular, students who come from what is increasingly described as the “Look at Me” generation, see the internet as an ideal place to celebrate one’s individuality, and from a narcissistic perspective, one’s worth, appeal and attractiveness (I am thinking in particular about such social networking sites as Facebook and Twitter). Students who are used to using the internet in order to celebrate themselves, their activities, and their lifestyle may find it difficult to reconcile the “climate” of these activities with the more challenging (and non-self-celebratory) climate of the online critical intercultural class. Indeed, online courses threaten to increase student solipsism when they rely too heavily on such strategies as described by Bender: “the optimal way to convey to students that they are noticed is for the instructor to mention each by name when acknowledging a response
                                          • One final danger or incompatibility associated with the commodified and “look-at-me” aspects of online education include the perpetuation of Western cultural values within the classroom. The impulse to make each student feel special, or to carefully mention each student by their first name comes from a Western tradition of individualism which presumes that self-actualization is in fact something that students achieve individually.
                                            • social justice can be usefully understood as a politics of connectedness. From this perspective, strategies to increase and celebrate social justice within intercultural communication studies must highlight and make possible connections between diverse members of a classroom or a community. Drawing from theories of whiteness, pedagogy, and online education, it becomes clear that these connections carry (political) power and potential if and when they are constructed through openness and mutual vulnerability.

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